As a nation, energy use in commercial buildings and industrial settings dwarf our residential consumption. Clearly, business energy conservation is an area needing serious attention if we are going to address our national energy addiction.
Business energy conservation strategies present an opportunity to improve the bottom line of your company and decrease the carbon footprint of your operation. Here is a list of basic energy conservation methods that are both simple and appropriate for almost any company.
In most commercial buildings, lighting, heating, and cooling systems make up the majority of the energy usage profile with miscellaneous plug loads such as computers, copiers, refrigeration, and other small equipment making up a sizable additional percentage. Process loads such as conveyor motors and machinery are applicable in a relatively small percentage of commercial buildings. By far, lighting equipment is the biggest consumer of energy in most commercial settings.
Looking at these energy consuming systems, quite a few business energy conservation opportunities become obvious. Some of these strategies are so easy and have such a large potential conservation impact, we can call them “no-brainers.”
No-brainer business energy conservation strategies:
* Exchange all incandescent light bulbs for compact florescent (CFL) or Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs. Incandescent lamps produce far more heat than light, which is a serious waste of electricity. In recent years CFL bulbs have improved in light output, efficacy, bulb life, and color rendition while becoming increasingly affordable. Alternatives like CFL’s and LED’s will save lighting energy and will also reduce your cooling load during summer months. A trip to your hardware store or an online search can yield great savings in energy and utility costs with a few switch-outs of bulbs.
* Upgrade all exit signs to LED fixtures. Exit signs are lit 24/7–that’s 8,760 hours per year. If you exchange a sign that uses 30 watt incandescent bulbs with LED lamps of similar output, you could save $46.00 per sign per year at .19/kWh. For a facility with potentially dozens of exit signs, that could be real savings in both energy and money year in and year out.
* Maintain your heating and air conditioning systems. This is common residential energy advice, but it is even more effective for small business energy conservation since commercial heating and cooling plants are typically larger and can be more heavily loaded. Clogged filters are among the most common reasons for degraded system performance, yet the fix is simple and inexpensive. Keeping your HVAC filters clean can also avoid potential system damage. Have annual system maintenance performed by a professional to clean cooling coils and tune your system for optimal performance.
* Turn off unneeded electronics after hours. Offices around the world are filled with computers left on 24/7 for no reason. This is almost always a complete waste. Talk to your IT department to see if they need to do some maintenance through the network after hours, but if they don’t, make it a policy to turn everything off. Even if they do, try to schedule a particular time for these updates and have equipment turned off the rest of the time. Regardless of the IT policy, printers and copiers should be shut down after hours.
* Get rid of phantom loads in office electronics. Most modern electronics continue to draw electricity when turned off. Some sources have estimated that as much as 5% of residential energy usage may be attributable to these phantom loads and the numbers may be even higher in an office setting. Use switched power strips to completely turn off electronics after hours.
* Abolish space heaters in the office during cooling months. It would be ideal to completely get rid of the small electric space heaters found under so many desks, but the reality is that employees are not going to be uncomfortable for long. Those little money wasting heaters would be back in no time. At the very least, get rid of space heaters during the summer to avoiding the common situation of running both air conditioning and heating at the same time. If the A/C is making someone too cold, change the thermostats, adjust vents, or relocate the workstation of the uncomfortable employee.
* Improve the tightness of your building thermal envelope. Caulk windows and doors, replace weather stripping, seal penetrations in the conditioned air space with spray foam, and upgrade insulation if possible.
* Consider a lighting upgrade. Moving from the most common commercial lighting instrument, the T-12 florescent, to more efficient T-8 lamps could mean significant energy savings. As an example, in a common office lighting situation T-12 bulbs may require 1.5 watts per square foot to generate the desired light level. T-8 florescent lights will only require 0.8 watts per square foot to accomplish the same light levels. Carefully weigh the cost of this upgrade versus savings potential.
* Use occupancy sensors to control lighting. These inexpensive sensors turn off unneeded lights when no personnel are present. The sensors may take some getting used to, but the savings are often significant and it is a simple and painless business energy conservation method.
* Carefully examine your utility bills. Make certain that the meter numbers on your statement match the numbers on your buildings. Many unsuspecting business owners have discovered that they have been paying for a neighbor’s energy for years simply because a meter reader recorded the wrong meter number.
* Contact a representative with your utility to walk through a sampling of your bills with you. You may be able to qualify for better rates, find mistakes, or identify savings opportunities. If you have a demand or power factor (kVAR) charges on your electric bill, make an appointment with a commercial energy auditor to determine ways to limit these expenses in your operation.
* Use a setback thermostat for conditioned spaces. The same level of cooling or heating is not needed during unoccupied hours. An electronic thermostat automates this easy business energy conservation strategy.
* Use natural ventilation when appropriate. If you have operable windows in your facility, use this free and energy neutral method of cooling and ventilating during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall when conditions are appropriate.
* Weatherproof your loading dock doors. During the heating and cooling seasons, close loading dock doors when passage is not needed, or invest in commercial strip curtains which allow free passage of people and equipment but impede the passage of that expensive conditioned air to the outdoors.
* Opt for efficient electric motors. When replacing electric motors on equipment or air handling units, always opt for high efficiency models. Likewise, never buy refurbished or rewound electric motors or have worn out motors rewound. Refurbished motors save only a small amount in replacement cost but their lower efficiency will consume more energy for years. The cost difference between standard and high efficiency motors is minimal, but the lifetime operational energy savings can be huge.
* Consider alternative energy projects. Alternative energy projects such as solar thermal, photovoltaic, or wind turbines may be appropriate for your business, but only after implementing much easier and more cost effective business energy conservation strategies. Energy conservation must always come first when considering alternative energy. The federal government as well as many states and utilities may have alternative energy incentive programs for small businesses.
* Get a commercial energy audit performed on your operation. A Level II energy audit will often identify thousands of dollars in potential business energy conservation savings, most of which can be carried out with minimal or even no investment. Your auditor will also be able to identify huge energy wasters such as older HVAC systems which are actually designed to simultaneously cool and heat, effectively throwing energy money out the window every hour of the year. Far too many of these systems are still in use today and could be costing you.
If you are currently leasing your commercial space you may be limited in the energy efficiency upgrades you can do to your building. Commercial property owners often have no incentive to implement energy saving methods since energy costs are born by tenants. Even so, many of these simple business energy conservation methods are appropriate for renters as well.
Your bottom line may look a whole lot better after implementing these strategies, and the carbon footprint of your operation will improve too.
About the author of this article: David M. Arthur is a USGBC LEED-AP, BPI Building Analyst, and Energy Auditor. His website, GreenHomesConsultant.com details energy efficiency and sustainable building strategies for homeowners. He is also a former principal, and dearly-missed member, of GreenBusinessOwner.com!
Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on Google Plus
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